Samuel L. Jackson isn’t the only one hangry for a piece of Charleston, South Carolina. Chow in Charleston is unfailingly good, whether it’s pub grub at The Blind Tiger on Broad Street or posh nosh and jazz at High Cotton. Every time I visit I try somewhere different, each venue, new or old, a piece in the jigsaw puzzle of Charleston’s eclectic culture. Here are our top five stops along the Charleston food trail:
Fleet Landing is an historical waterfront eatery right on the harbor with views over the marshes and barrier islands. Housed in a 1940s former naval building, it combines a salty, seaside atmosphere with local Lowcountry seafood. This is where to go for local comfort food such as fried green tomatoes, shrimp and grits, lump crab cakes, pimento cheese and oysters. Reasonable prices, extensive menu, varied wines and draft beers mean that Fleet Landing is busy and bustling even on weekdays. It’s both family-friendly and couple-cozy.
Sharing entrees with hubby, I tried the apricot flounder, the Lowcountry seafood pasta (think seafood-saturated paella with pasta rather than rice) and delectable homemade scones – a superior substitute for dinner rolls. The panoramic views and wrap-around terraces are another draw as there’s little waterfront eating in hurricane-prone Charleston.
A relatively new restaurant hub has developed at North King Street, spearheaded by upscale eateries such as The MacIntosh. Just a few years ago, King Street – Charleston’s main retail artery – gradually petered out north of Marion Square. But it’s now a thriving gallery and nightlife district, busy during the week and packed solid at weekends. Housed in a heritage building, The MacIntosh fuses old with new in its industrial blended with original brick décor scheme.
But don’t be misled by its famous “Mac” burger: this is no simple burger joint. I ate a summer salad with fennel, bib, togarashi, blueberries, watermelon and goat cheese, followed by Manchester Farm quail with brown rice in black garlic barbecue sauce, peanuts and bomba calabrese. Incredible taste and color combos complemented by the oddest starch I’ve ever tried – bone marrow bread pudding. Sounded ghoulish like something from one of Charleston’s Ghost Tours, but tasted amazing. As well as the bar and kitchen-view dining, there’s an intimate awning-covered backyard for less humid nights.
Tourism is year round in Charleston due to the full calendar of events, entertainments and festivals as well as the sultry consistency of good weather (from March to Thanksgiving and beyond). I’ve found myself so hot in December that I ended up sunbathing on the roof of the ritzy Charleston Place Hotel. In October, the weather is comparable to a hot July in Canada or the UK.
So, a seaside visit is a must and the nearest beach is Folly, 20 minutes drive from downtown. Named not for the mistakes of its inhabitants, but for the “foliage” that covers it, the island is home to a funky enclave of hippy, tie-dye stores, seafood shacks, surf shops, and ramshackle beach cottages. Incongruously, there is a rectangular 70s-style hotel and condominium blocking the beach view at the top of main street. But don’t be deterred by the utility exterior: Tides Hotel is refined and relaxing inside.
Right on the white sandy beach, adjacent to the fishing pier, it’s the best chance to hang out at a beach bar complete with cocktails, surfers, boogie boards, jetskis, dolphin sightings and pelican pass-overs. Tides has gradually reinvented its interior, adding a luxurious restaurant with chef and staff poached from five-star Kiawah Island. Decorated in a modernistic seaside fusion of sky blue and sand, the atmosphere echoes the seashore color scheme outside. Think value for money here – Segura Viudas Brut Cava is only $7 a flute and the daily beer special, Angry Orchard when I visited, just $2 a pint. The hot candied pecans on the strawberry and feta salad were addictive, the pita chips were homemade, and the fish tacos were fresh from nearby fish markets.
King Street Eats
Make sure to hover near the various sweet shops in and around King St for free samples of pralines – handmade, warm pecan toffee confections that literally melt in the mouth. For a more nutritious lunch, there’s Caviar & Bananas, a self-service smorgasbord of sushi, salads, pastas, wraps, sandwiches and pastries. And for breakfast or afternoon tea, Christophe’s is a French bakery and chocolatier with authentic croissants and colorful chocolates. Plus, in nearby Marion Park, there are a slew of food trucks, serving everything from Tokyo Crepes to Diggity Doughnuts to Roadside Seafood.
Known as the Holy City for its 100-plus spires, Charleston’s 18th and 19th century architecture is best appreciated from its many rooftop bars – preferably while sipping cocktails at sunset, taking advantage of the evening breeze.The Rooftop Cocktail Bar and Restaurant above the Vendue Inn affords the perfect vantage point over the marshy harbor, Cooper River Bridges, Fort Sumter and the Waterfront Park as well as the cobbled streets of the historic French Quarter.
Other notable rooftops include the Pavilion Bar (checkerboard floor, outdoor pool, and late-night dancing at weekends); Henry’s House (comfy, casual and downtown people-watching); and Stars Rooftop and Grill (cocktails, tap wines, craft beers). For an early morning overview of Charleston’s backstreets, the historic Andrew Pinckney Inn serves continental breakfast on a third-floor balcony overlooking top tier townscapes.
The writer was hosted at The MacIntosh, Tides and Fleet Landing for this story. The companies did not review or approve this article.